October marks a month of haunted houses, ghosts and witches, but October 26 and 27, 2010 brought a different kind of witch to The Homestead and Sleeping Bear Dunes…a “November Witch.” A November Witch is a storm also called the “Witch of November”. She is called a witch because she comes howling and screaming across the Great Lakes brutally bashing the shoreline with gale-force winds, rain and sometimes snow and ice.
The Witch of November is a late-fall storm only known to the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes are freshwater seas that are so large that they can produce their own weather systems. The water temperature of the Great Lakes is still warm in late fall. When cold arctic air from Canada collides with warmer air over the lakes and those brought from the south, severe storms develop bringing winds from 50 to 100 miles per hour. Wave heights can reach 20 to 35 feet.
The most infamous Witch of November came 35 years ago this month when 60 mph winds, 100 mph gusts and waves of 35 feet sunk the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975. The ship carried 29 crew members and iron ore from Superior, Wisconsin to Detroit, Michigan when she sank near White Fish Point in Lake Superior.
The October 2010 November Witch broke both Midwest and continental US storm intensity records. The massive storm was the biggest non-tropical cyclone of its kind. Hurricanes are tropical storms that can produce much lower pressure resulting in high winds and rain than most inland storms, but this November Witch is now recorded in the history books as the most intense non-tropical cyclone ever recorded.
A November Witch has no mercy on ships or sailors when she wants to do her dirty work. She can also come on shore bringing damaging winds, destructive waves and sometimes blizzards. The 1913 November Witch destroyed 19 ships, stranded 19 other ships and killed over 250 people. The 1975 November Witch sunk the Edmund Fitzgerald killing all aboard. The 1998 November Witch was a storm of equal proportions to the 1975 storm but no one lost their life. Improved weather forecasting and warning systems is minimizing the damage a November Witch can do to Great Lakes vessels.
Two books tell the story of some infamous November Witches:
Gales of November: The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Robert J. Hemming